Chicago area developer to pay $423,000 to retrofit units and settle disability discrimination claims

The United States Department of Justice settled fair housing claims against a Chicago area developer for $40,000 in damages, $3,000 in penalties, and an estimated $380,000 in retrofitting costs for a Naperville, Illinois apartment complex to make it accessible to persons with disabilities. The May 2002 settlement is one of the latest in a string of Justice accessibility settlements in its ongoing fair housing testing program.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Chicago in January 2001, alleged that Foxcroft Partnership, Wilfred Barry, D’Abar Builders, and Foxcroft Management & Construction violated the Fair Housing Act by failing to design and construct the Foxcroft Apartments, a 118-unit apartment complex in Naperville, Illinois, to be accessible to persons with disabilities. At approximately half of the forty-four ground floor units at the complex, there are steps into the units, the doorways are too narrow for persons using wheelchairs to get through them, the bathrooms and kitchens lack adequate maneuvering space for persons using wheelchairs, there are no reinforcements for grab bars in the bathroom, and thermostats and electrical outlets are placed at inaccessible heights.

Many barriers will be removed immediately

Under the settlement agreement, Foxcroft Partnership, Wilfred Barry, and Foxcroft Management & Construction will correct accessibility barriers to make the complex accessible to persons with disabilities. Some of the barriers will be removed immediately, while changes to individual units will be made at the request of current tenants or when the current tenants move out of the complex. Under the Fair Housing Act, new apartment complexes and condominiums with four or more units must include accessible common amenities such as parking, walkways, pools, and clubhouses.

The Act also requires that the ground-floor units in such new multifamily housing include accessible routes into and through the dwelling, doors wide enough to accommodate persons who use wheelchairs, bathroom walls that have reinforcements for the installation of grab bars, bathrooms and kitchens that are large enough for people who use wheelchairs to maneuver within them, and environmental controls and electrical outlets at accessible heights.

In addition to making the complex accessible, the settlement agreement also requires the defendants to:

  • Pay $40,000 in damages to persons who were harmed by the lack of accessible features at the complex; 
  • Pay $3,000 as a civil penalty;
  • Obtain fair housing training for themselves and their employees; and
  • Ensure that any future multifamily housing they build is accessible to persons with disabilities.

Testers reported inaccessible features under long-running DOJ fair housing testing program

The Department of Justice learned of the inaccessible features of the complex when testers sent to Foxcroft Apartments were told that at least half of the complex was not accessible to persons using wheelchairs. Testers are persons who pose as prospective purchasers or renters in order to gain information about the practices of a housing provider. Under a program established in 1991, the Department of Justice frequently uses testers to uncover unlawful housing discrimination.

"Congress intended new multifamily housing to be usable by people with disabilities, and we will continue to vigorously enforce this law," said Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.

"When builders fail to make apartments accessible, they are denying housing to people with disabilities," said Ralph F. Boyd, Jr., Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. As this settlement demonstrates, it is far less expensive to make housing accessible in the first place than to go back and fix it later."

Additional information about the accessibility requirements of the Act is available on HUD’s website at www.hud.gov/fhe/fheacss.html.

U.S. v. Foxcroft Partnership
Case No. 01C-0365
U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois 
Winifred Kao, U.S. Department of Justice, Housing and Civil Enforcement Section; Attorney

From the August 2002 Advocate